Link. I guess the AEI does some good work sometimes.
In 1961, the average full-time student at a four-year college in the United States studied about twenty-four hours per week, while his modern counterpart puts in only fourteen hours per week. Students now study less than half as much as universities claim to require. This dramatic decline in study time occurred for students from all demographic subgroups, for students who worked and those who did not, within every major, and at four-year colleges of every type, degree structure, and level of selectivity. Most of the decline predates the innovations in technology that are most relevant to education and thus was not driven by such changes. The most plausible explanation for these findings, we conclude, is that standards have fallen at postsecondary institutions in the United States.
So even though we lack the data to observe directly whether college has been "dumbed down," we are able to draw from the data a solid conclusion about university practices: standards for effort have plummeted--in practice, if not in wordStudents do not appear to have reduced study time to work for pay. Students appear to be studying less in order to have more leisure time.
Why has this happened? Educators have put forth a few theories. David L. Kirp, in Richard Hersch and John Merrow's Declining by Degrees, emphasizes student empowerment vis-à-vis the university and argues that increased market pressures have caused colleges to cater to students' desires for leisure. In the same volume, Murray Sperber emphasizes a change in faculty incentives: "A nonaggression pact exists between many faculty members and students: Because the former believe that they must spend most of their time doing research and the latter often prefer to pass their time having fun, a mutual nonaggression pact occurs with each side agreeing not to impinge on the other." Consistent with this explanation, recent evidence suggests that student evaluations of instructors (which exploded in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s) create perverse incentives: "easier" instructors receive higher student evaluations, and a given instructor in a given course receives higher ratings during terms when he or she requires less or grades more leniently. Because students appear to put in less effort when grading is more lenient, grade inflation may have contributed to the decline. Perhaps it is not surprising that effort standards have fallen. We are hard-pressed to name any reliable, noninternal reward that instructors receive for maintaining high standards--and the penalties for doing so are clear. [Emphasis added]
Should we be alarmed by the study-time decline? The answer depends on whether studying is an important input to the production of knowledge, skills, and human capital. There is strong empirical evidence to this effect. Ralph Stinebrickner and Todd R. Stinebrickner show that randomly induced decreases in study time of about forty minutes per day produce a decrease in student GPAs of 0.24 points. Thus, studying is clearly related to knowledge or learning, as captured by grades.
--The college students I teach work "shit" jobs and demand leisure time.
--Students do not want to read as much as I wanted to as a student.
--The best model for higher education is also the one disappearing most quickly: that of the 18- to 22-year-old who does not have to work and does not have children and does not live at home with his/her parents.
--Although that is a disappearing model for higher education, I'd still rather teach the students on a "liberal arts" track than the career/community college track, but I don't have much of a choice in this matter.
--As a student, I was competitive to be the most creative, insightful, knowledgeable, well-read, sharp person in the room, professor included. This trait is not typical. I need to go to graduate school again to get my mojo back.